Ninth Circuit Rejects Right-to-Land-Personal-Jet Case

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While the Ninth Circuit is often labeled as a "liberal" court that will accept virtually any civil-rights claim, don’t tell that to Ron Tutor, who is still unable to land his private jet at the airport in Hailey, Idaho.  In March, Tutor sued the city after it denied him permission to land at Friedman Memorial Airport, which is near the resort areas around Sun Valley, Idaho, where Tutor keeps a vacation home.  The city’s transparently fabricated excuse: the runway can only handle planes weighing less that 95,000 pounds, but Tutor’s personal Boeing Business Jet, an "executive version" of a 737, weighs 171,000 pounds, almost twice the limit.

How many times have we all heard that one?

Although Tutor luckily was able to reach his vacation home by means of an alternative, smaller private jet, he was not going to sit still for this flagrant violation of his constitutional and legal rights.  He brought Section 1983 claims against the city alleging violations of, including but not limited to, the following:

  • substantive due process;
  • procedural due process;
  • equal protection;
  • the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982;
  • the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990;
  • his constitutional right to travel; and
  • the Commerce Clause.

Showing restraint, Tutor did not allege violations of the Missouri Compromise, the Monroe Doctrine or the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The claims he did make got him only unrestricted landing rights at Loserville Community Airfield, with a fee award tacked on after the district court found his constitutional claims to be frivolous.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed.  For the most part, the court rested on the fact that Tutor had not actually been denied access to his home, which he was able to reach by means of the smaller plane.  This allowed the court to avoid the questions of, for example, whether a citizen’s right to land his private jet wherever he goddamn well pleases is a "fundamental right or liberty interest that is ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,’" and whether aircraft weight is a "suspect classification" for purposes of the Equal Protection Clause.

Link: Tutor v. City of Hailey, No. 04-35424 (9th Cir. July 3, 2006) (link to PDF file)